December in Asheville—A Local’s Perspective
It’s the most wonderful time of the year here in Asheville, filled with cold rains and holiday cheer. Everywhere I go people are wishing me “Merry Christmas,” and to be honest it’s making me nervous. I don’t have any gifts planned out, and if you could see my backlog of holiday recipes, you'd mistake it for a paperweight.
But December is one of my favorite times to be in Asheville. There’s so much to do that the month just slips away, never staying quite long enough. And if you’re visiting Asheville this December, I say it pays to have some idea of what highlights you should be hitting. You might say it pays to have a local’s perspective.
1: The National Gingerbread House Competition
That’s right, the National Gingerbread House Competition. All others who lay claim to that name are pretenders and should be devoured before their insolence spreads.
Politics aside, I’ve been going to see the Gingerbread House Competition every year since I was young enough to consider pocketing bits of the architecture, and each time I come away dazzled by the creativity and confectionary craftsmanship on display.
Until January 3rd of next year, the historic Grove Park Inn invites visitors and guests alike to roam it sprawling halls and take in this hallmark of December festivities in Asheville. While you’re there, consider making reservations at one of the Inn’s many restaurants, starring local craft brews and killer views.
Hours: Monday through Thursday, and after 6pm on Sundays. Fridays and Saturdays are reserved for guests staying at the Inn. Parking goes for $25 and up, which may seem steep, but proceeds are donated to local non-profits.
2: Tour the French Broad Chocolate Factory
Asheville has no shortage of chocolatiers. Off the top of my head I can name the Chocolate Fetish, Asheville Chocolate, and French Broad Chocolate’s tasting lounge, and that’s just in downtown. But only at the latter’s factory in the River Arts District can a visitor this December get a behind the scenes look at one of the most delicious industrial processes known to man.
Tours run just under an hour, and cover everything from farming practices to tempering, with plenty of opportunities for tasting both during the tour, and after, at the factory’s front-of-house café. For an extra romantic option, shoot for their sedentary wine-and-chocolate tasting, but be warned: reservations run out fast.
Hours: Reservations available Monday through Saturday for the tour. Select Sundays for the wine tasting.
You might think that all the best holiday markets are the stuff of idyllic European townships, but here in Asheville, we’ve got a couple of our own.
This year, you can find the North Asheville Tailgate Market set up for their seasonal Holiday Bazaar on the 10th and 17th, on the campus of UNC Asheville. Vendors ply locals and visitors alike with arts, crafts, produce, and the best baked goods in town.
For a truly Ashevillean experience, double up on the festivities by visiting the Uncommon Holiday Market on the campus of AB Tech. Admission runs 5$ and their only open on the 10th and 11th, but there’s no better opportunity this December to shop for some of the finest antiques, jewelry and artisan handcrafts in all of Asheville.
Hours: 10am to 1pm for the Holiday Bazaar. 10am to 5pm for Uncommon.
It may seem counterintuitive, but I consider December one of the best months for hiking in Asheville. Sure, it’s cold, and usually at least ten degrees colder at elevation, but you know what’s hot? Your body, when you expend calories. Cold plus hot equals comfortable. It’s pure science, folks.
If you manage to land one of those perfect days for winter hiking—cold enough to freeze, but not impact the roads—you got to check out Looking Glass Falls, about forty-five minutes from Asheville. Known in the summer as a swimming destination, in the winter Looking Glass sometimes freezes solid into a glimmering torrent of icicles. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of sight.
If the Blue Ridge Parkway figures into your hiking plans this December, be sure to keep an eye on their website for closures, which become more frequent this time of year.
5: The Arboretum’s Winter Lights
The NC Arboretum’s annual Winter Lights display gets better and better every year. With spotlights, chandeliers, string-lights, statues, and a colossal Christmas tree in the center—more than one million individual lights in total—there's no more enchanting place to be this December in Asheville. The s’more pits, live music, and cocoa-and-wine shack are just icing on the cake.
Timed tickets are available on the Arboretum’s website, with dates still open later in the month, but selling out fast. By their recommendation, and my own experience, I suggest visiting on a weeknight or the late evening to avoid what can amount to some staggering crowds. Not that I blame them. It’s one of the best sights of the season.
Hours: Entry at 6pm, 7pm, and 8pm. Event closes at 10pm every night.
Grove Park Inn
290 Macon Ave, Asheville, NC 28804
French Broad Chocolate Factory & Café
821 Riverside Dr #199, Asheville, NC 28801
North Asheville Tailgate Market
3300 University Heights, Asheville, NC 28804
The North Carolina Arboretum
(828)-665-2492 100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way, Asheville, NC 28806